TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 1967

Some Other Comments . . .

September 8, 1967

Lake Valhalla

Dear Henry, (Geldzahler)

Welcome back (cough) to pacified Lindsay Heckscher Hovington under filth on Hudson where even parks are “funkie,” black posies bloom powerless, and “Molotov cocktails,” however hostilely hurled, are instantly extinguished, consumed by imperial Eastern-accented good will and glad tidings which circulate ceaselessly in all five ghettos. . . .

Thank Claes Oldenburg for publigrossly debasing monumaudled symbultimentality just for the fun of it.

AS A FRIEND, AN UPPER air analyst-painter,* Andy Bucci, would say so softly and conclusively, “This is not a criticism but a comment.” I detect that the Claes Oldenburg of recent conspicuous public display is not at all a modern artist but a reminiscent one suited to be the “Chinese-ing” and erotic fantasist, etc., in the festive service of some distant Pompadour.

It is discouraging to notice that so many young artists have adopted a quasi-fetishistic reverence for technological emanations as art itself. . . . But, I sense that a clever “solid state” mentality is not to be preferred to that innocent attitude which formerly “camped out” pointlessly in a “shaped canvas” about two seasons ago . . .

“About the Individual Cost of Brave New Worldly Artistic Sensorial Technocracy” or “Should You Believe: There’s No Buzz Like ‘Strobe’ Biz?”

It seems to me that no one should bother to pay to concede his perception to the pointless audiovisual “entertaining” punishment haphazardly projected by some of the so called self-determined multi media techno totalitarians, especially since, at home, on any evening, he is already compelled to absorb an “overload” of much of the same seemingly arbitrary, jarring, messageless mistreatment from television commercials and the various silly dreary programming “misadventures” in between.

Applying these concoctions of theatrical ritual, of easy, mindless, indiscriminate sensorial abuse to any audience, for vaguely construed notions of attention-getting “control” and motivation beyond thought may be effective as psychologically intimidating, even dangerous, to individuals but it need not be considered engaging new art merely because its seemingly “swinging” progressivistic perpetrators and their critical and curatorial “press agents” propagandize that it is.

Also, it seems to me, that in contemporary commercially irrelevant terms, one of man’s actually difficult and yet engagingly communicative experiences is still art as essential artifice, independent of the inhibition of humanistic symbolism and lifelike or “larger than life”-like referral.

To the queries editor: Guess who was responsible for the following hysterically preposterous metaphorical “malfunction”?

“The media are not toys; they should not be in the hands of Mother Goose and Peter Pan executives. They can be entrusted only to new artists, because they are art forms.

Harnessing the Tennessee, Missouri or Mississippi is kid stuff compared with curbing the movie, press or television to human ends. The wild broncos of technological culture have yet to find their busters or masters. They have found only their P. T. Barnum.”

Might it have been Walt Disney or “Duke” Wayne or William S. Paley or Norman Mailer or Otto Piene or “Miss America” or Casey Stengel or Howard Wise or David Susskind or the Smothers Brothers or Busby Berkeley or Norman Vincent Peale or Andy Warhol or Kate Smith or Art Link-letter or Oral Roberts or Alan Burke or Gerd Stern or anonymous or Peter Sellers or Mao Tse Tung or Gyorgy Kepes or Sam Yorty or Ted Mack or Len Lye or Hubert Humphrey or George Rickey or Art Buchwald or was it simply Marshall McLuhan again?

“How-what-where-when-why-went McLuhan?” saith Dick to Jane. “Bow Wow, you jerk!” spat Spot.

On “artistic” experiments in post-engineering fame and fortune: Just wait until the guys at Bell Laboratories recognize that they do not need outside “artists” to identify (usurp) what they have achieved and are trying to comprehend day by day.

Last Tuesday, July Fourth, we drove Ward Jackson to “Olana,” the former Frederick Church house near Hudson, New York. It lies between decay and restoration, a dull state. I wished that I had not seen it.

The enforced guided tour conducted by some garrulous girl art student was dreadful. She dismissed Church’s small landscape sketches in oil on canvas which are all about the interior as unimportant. They are the most beautiful things to see at “Olana”. . . .

There is some indication that Church liked indoor-outdoor optics from “false” internalized reflecting windows to the perpetual sunscape through orange amber glass to inter-room progressions to enhance illusions of perspective distances. So much of this work is distorted because of alterations, such as those to windows, and the loss of tinted glass. Also, the abundance of polychromed detail, especially on the exterior, is either painted out with common cocoa brown and light grey or severely weathered to relative loss.

Household fittings seem to be depleted—much more so than publicity pictures, such as those of Life Magazine last winter—would indicate. The high sense of exotic artifice which I had wanted to feel is no longer present in and out of the building. The house is of poor exterior architecture. The gardens have not been preserved. The view down the Hudson River is distant and lovely.

If I were Church, I would have had my atmosphere “broken” and dispersed and my house burned to the ground. (Its integrity must have been that important to the man.)

Now, what remains is to be adjusted, played with, altered, distorted, etc., toward some insufficient antiquarian result.

From a reply of June 27, 1967 to Dan Graham: Musicological serial systemics, however metaphorically extended, do not seem to me to fit my use of fluorescent light. For example, as Sonja noted, “The series is built from the simple multiples of the smallest unit common to all the interlocking dimensions,” has no analogous application that she or I can recognize. . . .

. . . Your fine photographic approach seems to recall the consistently clear and plain deviceless reportage of Henri Cartier-Bresson which you apply not to people, as he did, but to their “feats” (your emphasis) of banal-vernacular architecture and landscape.

From a letter of April 27, 1967 to Miss Elizabeth C. Baker, Managing Editor of Art News:

Dear Elizabeth Baker:

Contrary to your opening remarks on first use six years ago, I found electric light to have a strong visual impact. That was the easiest of recognitions . . .

Your statement, “The major catalyst was Pop,” is incorrect as far as my effort is concerned. In 1957 (correction), I deliberately entered the tradition of abstract art through certain paintings (omission correction) . . . I have thought from there. Nevertheless, I try never to acknowledge “isms” on art because of their usual unanimous inaccuracy.

My constructions of 1961 through 1963 concerned problems with electric light only . . .

By the way, at the start (of my use of electric light), I knew nothing of the Moholy-Nagy sculpture or, for that matter, all of the output of the European solo systems and groupings like Zero which were introduced to New York relatively recently or not at all. Again, remember that Mr. Green’s dilemma (at finding artists whose work could be included in his Current Art exhibition of spring, 1965) was not from ignorance of what was being attempted but from lack of available results of engaging quality.

I recall that the (New York) Museum of Modern Art’s “Lumia” installation behind heavy curtains was considered merely a curiosity by most artists and known as a rendezvous for boys and girls and boys and boys and so forth. It did not entertain me. It looked like a softly shifting abstract painting that never could resolve effectively—something similar to Paul Jenkins’s canvases in motion.

The equipment which I deploy seems to me to be neither ugly nor handsome.

“There is no room for mysticism in the Pepsi denigration,” is a quote of mine for a survey (of artists) during the last year. I mean that remark emphatically. My fluorescent tubes never “burn out” desiring a god.

I prefer the term “proposal” and endeavor to use it accurately. I know no “work” as my art.

For a few years, I have deployed a system of diagramming designs for fluorescent light in situations. Of course, I was not immediately aware of that convenience and its inherently fascinating changes. I assume that it “developed” without my explicit or regular recognition. Also, a number of diagrams had to accumulate before a kind of reciprocity could obtain. Now, the system does not proceed; it is simply applied. Incidentally, I have discovered that no diagram is inappropriate for my file. None need be prevented, suspended or discarded for lack of quality. Each one merely awaits coordination again and again. Sometimes, adjustments or new variants are implied. Then, and only then, do I think to move my pencil once more. I am delighted by this understanding.

Yes, fluorescent light fixtures are unwieldy to place, particularly away from a flat surface. I am conscious about being exceedingly careful with that part. I aim constantly for clarity and distinction first in the pattern of the tubes and then with that of the supporting pans. But, with or without color, I never neglect the design.

After viewing Kunst-Licht-Kunst in Eindhoven, I would urge you to restrain your estimation of the efforts of both ————— ————— and ——— ————— until further observation. Just as with so many “happenings,” the minor mechanisms of these men are photographed as more important than they are.

Impromptu flickers from Billy Who?, lasers through the night, “Lights Cancelling Orbits,” numbered evenings of inept art on technotivity in the Armory do not inform me about my effort. That proposal is whole now and has been so. It requires no technological embellishment nor must it join the technocratic, “sci-fic” art as progress cult for continuing realization. Moreover, I do not feel compelled to hope for a more wonderful day before the fact in promo-proto-art history. I am not anxious to prefer to speculate against posterity. I like thinking here and now without sententious alibis.

Thank you for persevering. I am exhausted, too. Best wishes and best regards to you.

(signed)

A re-edited recollection written in the fall of 1965: When I went to Hans Hofmann’s School on Eighth Street in 1956, I was unable to attend full time; therefore, I had no contact with Mr. Hofmann who, by then, was giving Friday criticisms only. Nevertheless, I could sense that I, with my expectant feelings, did not belong there—between rabid students and quiescent dilettantes. Reluctantly, I left the class after meeting just four sessions, discouraged and disappointed with myself and yet, certainly relieved of what appeared to me to be the terrible submission of the student role. At least, my incipient art, in its rash and intense incompetence, might be mine to fathom.

From a reply of June 22, 1967 to Dan Graham: Last year, I became fully conscious that I had been deploying an interchangeable system of diagrams for fluorescent light held for situation installation. (The system was so thoroughly operative that it could be recorded finally in writing.) This attitude differs greatly from that former sense of development, piece by piece.

Quick, available comprehension is intended for participants in my installations. (One should not have to pause over art any longer.)

From a reply of June 17, 1967 to Jan van der Marck, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago:

. . . I do not like the term “environment” associated with my proposal. It seems to me to imply living conditions and perhaps an invitation to comfortable residence. Such usage would deny a sense of direct and difficult visual artifice (in the same sense that to confront vibrating fluorescent light for some time ought to be disturbing for most participants).

Also, I intend rapid comprehensions—get in and get out situations. I think that one has explicit moments with such particular light-space. Now, I have witnessed these moments in situations frequently enough not to be burdened by them. I know them and forget sufficiently. The installations are completed, lighted and disassembled. Clarity obtains in my mind, after all.

. . . Before I forget, please do not refer to my effort as sculpture and to me as sculptor. I do not handle and fashion three-dimensioned still works, even as to Barbara Rose’s Juddianed “specific objects.” I feel apart from problems of sculpture and painting but, there is Do need to re-tag me and my part. I have realized that there need not be a substitute for old orthodoxy anyhow.

I have not tried to tease and to test deliberately about what was art and not with my proposal. I have declared it so definitely and openly. Some of my contemporaries have chosen a career quite to the contrary.

From a reply of June 11, 1967 to Ira Licht:

Frankly, I feel that there is no interest in posing a problem as to whether art within electric light could also be utilitarian. For myself, I would not resist “public service.”

From a reply of June 21, 1967 to Guy Brett:

Nothing like an adequate photograph has ever been fabricated about an installation of mine. There is too much writing about art. It is confounding to dull to “invisible.” I could thrive without the art word, even my own.

From a reply of June 15, 1967:

I find the invitation to participate in your untitled “minimal art” exhibition objectionable. I do not enjoy the designation of my proposal as that of some dubious, facetious, epithetical, proto-historic “movement.” (I realize that this critical contrivance did not originate with you, but you have adopted it with such apparent gullibility.)

Somehow, I look forward to that time when museum people listening to artists, not critics, will realize that if their institutions are to survive, they must keep operations as flexible as possible in order to accommodate art as artists present it instead of imposing premature group conclusions through fad fatuous “theme” show business. By the way, are you sure that the “minimal art” tag will survive in critical esteem to your re-scheduled exhibition dates . . .

P.S. . . . I think of my effort as contemporary, a simple and direct proposal which, since its inception, has not depended upon the convenience of an art historical reaction of emotional and formal decline. . . .

I do not want the anticipated carnival atmosphere typical of the “sound, light, motion” critical-curatorial promotions. I do not want to play the curious haphazard arty crowd pleaser. That part is much better fitted for the under-thirty hip typed mod starlet art politicians who inevitably clutter “the Scene” obviously-expansively and those artists or would-be artists over thirty who still lack that obscure and saleable “big idea” and are still stupid enough to crave the bit.

From a letter of January 13, 1967 to Emily Genauer, “art critic” for the World Journal Tribune, Inc.:

Dear Miss Genauer:

A friend from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum mistakenly forwarded your distorted and vicious writing about my current exposition in the Kornblee Gallery into my privacy.

I do not like to quote myself except for pay; however, in your case, I choose to make an exception: “I know of no occupation in American life so meaningless and unproductive as that of art critic.”

Almost every hapless boob coming in off the cold sidewalk spouts, “. . . you’d think the gallery had been lit for a group of paintings not yet hung.” But, I guess you just had to say it, too.

“Somehow, I am always troubled by reviewers like you who conveniently quote out of context.” Not only have you misquoted me but, worse than that you have flattened my supposed remarks into your own tedious type . . .

I wish that you would clarify your misrepresentations to yourself before approaching your pontifical typewriter.

Is it to be understood that, “Six of these arrangements are fixed to the gallery walls at carefully calculated intervals around the room” or, to the contrary, that “This year it seems he’s not worried about space. He just likes light?”

You have said, “What he doesn’t like is art, any kind of art.” Just what qualifies you to presume to issue such a damned fool lie like that? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. . . .

(signed)

P.S. When may we expect your retirement to Sunnybrook Farm?

From the collected reviews of Saturday, January 14, 1967 entitled: “Art: More Aluminum, Less Symbolism” by Hilton Kramer, “art critic” of The New York Times Company:

Dan Flavin (Kornblee, 58 East 79th Street): The notion that Mr. Flavin is an artist is one that commands assent among knowledgeable people one respects. But on the basis of the current evidence—white fluorescent tubes arranged in vertical pairs (and that’s all)—he seems to me no artist at all. He has simply been given space in an art gallery.”

A letter of January 16, 1967 to Hilton Kramer, “art critic” for The New York Times Company:

Dear Hilton Kramer:

I sense that everyone concerned, even a critic like you, has to hear artists on art. There is no other practicable choice. Nevertheless, don’t ever permit a consensus, however “knowledgeable” and respectable, to fill your vacancy “in an art gallery.” You must contain uniquely stupendous information to enable you to recognize who is an artist and not, and therefore, what his art may be. But I do not believe this ridiculous conceit of yours. You cannot play omniscient critic to me or anyone else. You must be a damned fool to harbor such drivel.

From your apparently scant attempt to describe and to characterize the “that’s all” of my exposition, I realize that you have, at best, only a vague notion about what you have seen. For some time, I have been puzzled by the strange, expedient compulsion which controls most critics like you. It seems to prompt the release of some sort of statement at every publication deadline. On this occasion, I feel that ethically, in reason, you could have posted blank space after my name.

(signed)

P.S. I have been told that one of your caste (Miss Lucy R. Lippard) has published a remark that she is embarrassed for me by the content of an old statement of mine. Of course, that sort of comment in public is merely gratuitous, self-serving slop. But consider the pangs which surely should afflict the girl when she has to reckon with the language of your tense sense of expiation on artists and art. How humorless you seem!

For a few years now, ill-conceived and unfortunate concoctions of immediate criticism, particularly the blithering and reckless journalistic type, and presumptuous, pretentious, premature pretenses at tedious didactic rhetorical scholarship1 have been inflicted upon contemporary art, artists and others. The resultant writing is often in the disreputable promo-past tense, of pious, proto-historic figure fabrication by polemical case history.

It would appear that there are no more romances on expatriate “cubi-quasi-popsters” to exploit from twenties “camp,” or any politically thwarted, emotionally constrained and intellectually revolting “Russo-constructivites” to “resurrect” from the annals of Bolshevik engineering right away before it is too late after all these years, or another former humanistically stunted canvas-bound figurative “white hope” to foist upon our humor like some odd archaeological-sociological-polemical find, or better another disintegrating, wholesome, home-“cooked,” “passionately,” primitively architected and “presenced” former cryptic ancestrally deduced educational “developmental” “basic design” project of a romantically referentially entitled black box (the “die” could have been cast—for the ages, in respectable bronze) critically-curatorially encouraged to pose apocryphally-paradoxically as a momentously correct and brilliant best of this generation and that, anthropological ploy to confuse by comparison (actually, by mere geometric structural appearances) the apparently different intelligence already established in the simple, direct and bluntly sophisticated proposals unambiguously declared art by young artists, and to check the warranted reputations of these men of possibly true historic distinction (if they could care about such matters).

Let’s face it; in present provocation and peril, it is damned discouraging to be young fellows and girls and fellow-girls, and eager and full of feeling and striving to believe in personal potential, with a dusty, rusting, reconditioned Smith-Corona available and yet, finally beginning to realize that you have been remaindered educationally and economically with a Phd. or less in the literature of former art history, without the opportunity for developing the semblance of an idea on art to call your own (you can’t be your own artist because you really don’t want that or feel appropriately incapable), and not much visual perception otherwise to try to “fake out” into continuing acts of commercial criticism. Stop! But, therefore, don’t assume that you must fuss frustrated month by month or more frequently in anachronistic, idiosyncratic, “authoritative,” “parasitic” print for the possibility of slowly increasing amounts of money, cult to popular approval and a curatorial appointment over the contemporary art of imaginative betters, or “hack out” euphoric-extravagant publicity handouts for the next new breed of artistic faddists and so forth and backwards. Remember that many of your hapless elders, trapped into playing the same word-mongering role, with similar backgrounds, have blundered along for years in like manner, to the laughter, boredom and periodic detestation of artists and anyone conscious enough to be concerned with art.

If I were you, I would not bother to vie for the infamous bit part of a tawdry, clownish, expedient-expendable middleman type dupe, having blab-bed, blustered and bawled publicly for too long about your own little or nothing (the felt opinion) disguised as consistent contemporaneous corrective critique.

Get the point at last; we who are artists and/or participants in art don’t want you and the endless disservice of your self-conscious discursive “blight” on art. We are our own useful consensus. Be assured that we know or will know enough to conduct our art. Stay away from our present, and keep to recording the past as you were trained. How little you have done with the thought of Mr. Schwitters! And the effort of the late Jackson Pollock could use your immediate attention.

Dad, who was Clement Greenberg?

Oh, he’s that pseudo-anthropologist who contrives before and after post-something or other scenarios, particularly for painters—a curious kind of consistent, congested polemical conceit of sacrosanct critically didactic sub-contracting. Lately, his cant claims that most other art than that of his own brand is mere “novelty.”

Golly, that doesn’t sound novel, but it is so cute, so cunning, s-o-o-o pre-art hyster—historical.

Yes, son, you’ve got something there and remember that such a seemingly quaint anachronistic politically intransigent attitude has been religiously propagandized as the modern critical “objectivity.” Much of the man’s residual dogma has become journalistically Eastern accented—“hard lined” and assiduously “Harvardradclipped.” The message has been carried farther north to “make it” repeatedly with those equivocally serious artistic delights, the perennially light-headed “fun” females at “Benny Tech.” Certainly, it has filtered internationally, too—“frozen” for a numb artistically “undernourished” Canadian or two, eagerly egotistically adopted by several coy ambitious acrylic ploy boy “funk” fringe modsters within the usually dreary glittery-jittery smog-befuddling atmosphere of “Lost Angels” and its bleak northern “San-fran” environs. Also, it has been commercially collected and bound and encouraged for various chic coffee tables and critics’s desks (which seem to be interchangeable now), “purely”—piously painted about on gold striped “tapestries” to obscure fine broad plaster walls here and there and zealously “packaged” in prepossessing “permanent” print for export in art trade journals and “London bridged” by gallery “show biz” even to the traditionally culturally chauvinistic (gauche) and cranky Gauls._

Well, goodnight, Rodney . . . and remember, don’t ever let those big bad crafty heartless nonartless mechanical “minimizers” dissuade you from your precious insignificant little old-fashioned home made illusionary planar confusions on painting or you just won’t be “blessed” with those medium rare Greenburged “Holy Orders” and a mitigated “future” in advances against sales.

I scanned a recent article by ———— ———— in Arts. He keeps striving to induce a current psychological “high” from prospects of future art power. He fails to realize that he may be only another artist—like the rest of us.

When one writes about art, even his own, he assumes a certain vulnerability. What the hell! There is not that much to lose. And those of the future, of the “terrible” examining historic posterity (for so many artists, critics and partisan “swingers”) will easily neglect and forget what they cannot use anyhow. (Nothing startling. This applies to the best contemporary interest, too.) Amen, and so forth.

A post card sent from Greensboro, North Carolina: May 28, 1967

Dear Sol (LeWitt), Mel Bochner, Jean and Larry Zox and others,

This must be my last report from inside hostile territory. Our gay little platoon is surrounded by menacing “fascists” covered with sparkling clean, wash and wear sheets. They are stronger than our leader, Dirt. My efforts to tame the night riders with uplifting showers of oral contraceptives has failed. Now, all that remains is the old post-plastic twist to a fake “Stars and Bars Forever” and a brazen new diversion of “Dixie” discreetly projected on a muddled multitude of Cagey old T.V. sets. “Ughrahh,” I may have just expired bitten by a decadent but ferocious figure drawing. (Somehow, I have to sound like an earthy Lichtensteinian should.)

Fond Regards,

Flav.

All Flavins arrive in Cold Spring on June Second.

From a reply of June 26, 1967 to Gregory Battcock: As I said by telephone (I don’t give a damn if I am belaboring the point), it is about time that fellows like you started giving artists their proper share of the funds available for projects like your anthology—even if it must be a cut of poor pay. At present, I am investigating copyrighting legislation. I intend to inform my colleagues of their rights and responsibilities as often as possible.

Best Wishes For Your Project. Sincerely,

(signed)

An effective cultural cooperative protection association or union for artists is long overdue. I mean it. For too long, artists have been subjected to almost unlimited socio-economic exploitation, deliberate or otherwise—even when they can’t use it. More later . . .

From a letter of January 12, 1967 to Paul Berthiaume:

P.S. It is reported that in Zambia a golfer may remove his ball from the footprint of a hippopotamus without penalty.

Dan Flavin

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NOTES

1. Encumbered by increasing number of footnotes.